Politicians, teachers unions and citizens may be angry and appalled at the government’s heavy handed action in arresting a student leader on the serious charge of sedition, but the BJP and its assorted arms have achieved a key objective: they have taken one step towards their goal of capturing India’s universities.
Taking control of the education system is a very critical part of the Sangh agenda. From day one of this government – the appointment of a highly willing and amenable HRD minister – they have put their game plan into action. From changing school curricula to appointing friendly vice-chancellors, everything is well thought out. But that can only go so far. To really get a grip on the universities, it is crucial to also put your own people in student unions. Since winning each and every election may not be possible, the intention is to destabilise all those unions where rivals – especially from the left and progressive groups – may be holding office. This is where the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, comes in.
There are uncanny similarities between what happened in JNU and Hyderabad Central University. The ABVP was involved in both incidents, getting into a conflict with other students. In each case, a minister picked up the ABVP’s complaint and referred to “anti-national” activities. (In Hyderabad, the minister also helpfully added the charge of “casteist”, as Dalit students were involved.) Since the minister involved in the JNU case was no less a person than Rajnath Singh, the police acted swiftly and arrested a student leader who had no connection with any “anti-national activity” of any kind.
The HRD ministry under Smriti Irani wrote to the VC og Hyderabad University several times asking what action was being taken against the “anti-nationals”; in response, the university suspended five students. Events moved somewhat faster in JNU; barely had Singh said that anti-national activity would not be tolerated than she echoed him to say no one would be allowed to “insult” the country.
When the “nation” is referenced, a whole eco-system of hysteria falls into place. The media go berserk and the argument begins to centre around how treason can be tolerated. The trolls move swiftly, the fellow travellers begin to echo the cry and simple, sober folk begin to say, “yes, whatever their demands, they should not have insulted the country.” No one stops to enquire about the facts of the case or whether “insulting” the nation is an actual criminal offence. Since by now we have been told a million times that the BJP and its cohorts hold the monopoly of both nationalism and even the definition of nationalism, this is a losing game all round.
Apart from handing out certificates of nationalism, the BJP also brings into the equation the entire might of the state. In the case of Kanhaiya Kumar, once the home minister had declared – on what basis we haven’t been told, though there is much speculation that his top secret sources include fake tweets – anti-nationals would not be spared, the Delhi police swung into action and took him to jail. Imagine a scenario in which a private citizen one day just disappears because someone fingers him as a possible anti-national; already people have been arrested and worse, lynched on the suspicion of eating beef. Will vigilante groups now scour the streets looking for those whose patriotism seems somewhat weak?
Why do students matter so much to the Sangh? It has long been a mantra among right wingers that universities are a hotbed of leftist activities and breed subversives of various kinds. These elements have to be thrown out, and the ABVP has been assigned that task. It has now become the sword arm of the Sangh, instead of an organisation fighting for students’ issues.
Today it is universities; tomorrow it may be government offices, companies, housing societies, the film industry. The media looks a potential candidate, given the tendency of journalists to ask questions and write inconvenient articles that don’t fit in with the nationalist narrative. Already many have begun to trim their sails to the wind. And, as we have now seen, lawyers, who are supposed to stand up for the law, are ready to hit out at anybody who even covers the court case of “anti-nationals.”
Whether in Hyderabad or JNU, matters need not have escalated to this level. The country’s home minister is a busy man and has to worry about so many more important things; why does he bother about a minor student demonstration? The whole thing – even with the slogan shouting – could have passed without anyone taking notice; now it is a major national issue and international news. Prime Minister Modi was talking up the country as an investment destination in Mumbai; surely this was not the time to rake up a needless controversy.
Why then is the government being so reckless? Is the BJP so desperate that it is trying to make political capital at the expense of a small bunch of students? Or is there a bigger plan in motion?